Equality, Diversity and Inclusion – Your Questions Answered
Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (ED&I) is always an issue of fundamental importance, but the Black Lives Matter protests have brought it into sharper focus. This presents risks to employers by heightening political tensions – but it also provides a great opportunity to bring renewed attention to ED&I issues in the workplace.
An inclusive approach is something which employers and their employees increasingly expect to see and experience at work. There is increasing public awareness not only of race discrimination but of discrimination of all kinds. There has never been a better time for employers to take stock of their approach and to review their equality policies, nor a better chance to persuade managers to buy into them.
Malcolm Gregory, an employment lawyer at Royds Withy King, answers some of the most frequently asked questions from employers and HR professionals.
Can I use a template equality and diversity policy?
The research in this area suggests that no single approach will be fit for all businesses as each business will have its own challenges relating to ED&I. The benefit of having a policy is to provide a framework around the reality of what is happening in an organisation and the agenda it is following. In that context it is important to not only comment on your organisation’s high-level position and strategy, but also to ensure that the policy acknowledges local differences (e.g. geography, industry/sector, size and culture). Start with a template but to make it worthwhile, make it speak for your organisation’s specific challenges.
What is the point of training on ED&I?
Generic non-targeted training without an understanding of the issues and objectives is unlikely to be of much benefit. It might potentially help an organisation defend a vicarious liability discrimination claim based on the actions of an employee who has acted in a discriminatory manner despite receiving training. However, carefully designed diversity training which uses perspective taking (i.e. where people envisage the experience of others) is likely to meet the needs of the business in a more targeted way. Barriers can be broken down when conversations and understanding between a diverse workforce are facilitated through well-designed training.
What is positive action in an ED&I context?
Under the Equality Act 2010, an employer can take “positive action” where employees who share a protected characteristic suffer a disadvantage, have particular needs or are disproportionately underrepresented. Employers can take action to enable or encourage those with the protected characteristics to overcome or minimise the disadvantage, meet their particular needs or encourage greater participation without opening themselves up to discrimination claims brought by those people who do not hold the relevant protected characteristic. This is not a legal obligation but increasingly it is something which organisations are considering in order to move their diversity agenda forward. “Positive action” is not the same as “positive discrimination” which is unlawful.
Is “banter” getting a bad name?
In many organisations employees who make remarks in a well-intentioned and good-humoured or teasing way regard this as “banter” – harmless fun. Unlawful harassment due to a protected characteristic (e.g. sex, race or disability) is a subjective test. This often means that what one employee believes is harmless or well intentioned “banter” is perceived by another employee as intimidating, hostile or offensive. The meaning of banter in the workplace does seem to be changing towards something which is not desirable and certainly forms the subject of many interesting training sessions.
What does effective diversity management look like?
The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development suggests the following: (Diversity Management that works – October 2019)
- Think global - act local. Make sure your global strategy accounts for the local context
- Get managers buy in and commitment (e.g. resourcing, leveraged KPI’s)
- Collect and analyse high quality diversity data
- Design diversity training holistically and use perspective taking (i.e. where people envisage the experience of others).
- Root out bias in job specifications and selection
- Be ambitious in taking positive action on diversity
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